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Sarah Alban Headshot

On Finishing Early

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Finishing early rarely looks good.

I'll politely smile and still respect you if you finish early. But I'll suspect you were rushing because you didn't enjoy it. I'll wonder if something went wrong. I won't know if you'll try to rush through all future endeavors.

So please try to last as long as you can. College should take at least four years.

If you're a prodigy, I take that back. G'head. Finish college before you can legally drive, even. But if you've never been called "precocious" by a major news organization, falling instead somewhere between average and God's gift to the Scantron, give yourself all four years. Finishing in three or three and a half years won't necessarily deprive you of any courses, social life or internship opportunities. But I'm going to make the case that taking all four years leaves you with a big advantage.

Actually, here are four:

  1. You'll network more. Impressive people visit campuses, not bedrooms. If you want to meet, swap business cards with and connect on LinkedIn with them, you need to be wherever they are, and often that's a campus. So stick around yours. Getting these visitors free with your tuition is like getting a printer with your computer. How can you refuse?

    Maybe you already have a printer. But what if your printer is hiding in a closet where no one can find it? We all want talent to be enough. We all want to take our courses and zip out to reality to impress upon it our awesomeness. But a bright-flight from a campus with your bachelor's degree in hand isn't going to land you a salary and benefits -- necessarily. Even Justin Bieber needed Usher to position him. Maxing out your four years lets you max out visitors, too. Let them be your Usher. Belieb.

  1. You'll advance technologically. Whatever your career, technology is probably shifting it. Day by day, the Cloud takes another byte out of the way all industries function (even farming). Are you reading this page on a tablet, smartphone, computer or advanced release of Google's rumored augmented-reality glasses? You don't have to learn how these work, although that's helpful. But at the very least, you'll gain a leg-up by observing how your professors react to the year's technology releases. They might even be researching these advances. If you graduate in 2012, you'll have insights into 2012 technology. If you graduate in 2013, you'll know about 2013 technology. And so on. You can't always anticipate tomorrow's technology. But hanging around academia as long as you can injects the maximum crystal-ball glimpses into you.
  1. You'll look older. (Meet the most shallow entry on this list.) Also, meet Svante Myrick, the 24-year-old mayor of Ithaca, New York. Myrick has buckets of administrative experience -- but he also looks like he could be 30 -- which is still pretty young for someone in charge of a city, let alone a city in New York. He overcame his boyish looks with knowledge, skill and personality, all of which he possesses to an extent of making national headlines. People with national-headline-breaking skills can afford to look boyish. Otherwise, an extra line or two acquired in a fourth year of college is worth not only hoping for, but also pouring a libation for.
  1. You'll sleep more. Fitting 100-200 credit hours into two or three years of college is absolutely plausible, especially with Advanced Placement tests knocking out dozens of hours of courses you actually have to take. You might even be able to fit in a minor or double-major. But boy, will you miss sleep. Which is really OK because your urine will smell so much like coffee you'll have night-jitters about it -- and from the caffeine.

I finished college in four years, having switched my major officially three times and unofficially dozens more. Friends of mine finished in three. As with sucralose and aspartame, it's too soon to tell if one of them does more harm than the other.